A glittering array of imports from the shores of Brazil has played a major role in establishing Shakhtar Donetsk as a force among European football, over the years, writes Sam May.
Backed by the financial clout of club owner Rinat Akhmetov and inspired by the leadership of 70-year old Romanian manager Mircea Lucescu, who was hired in 2004, they have become a force to be reckoned with. Donetsk was founded in May 1936 and the city hasn’t looked back since.
Since the Ukrainian League was established in 1991, many Brazilians, such as Fernandinho, Willian, Fernando and Douglas Costa to name but a few, have graced the fields of the Donbass Arena, one of the finest football grounds in Europe.
Dubbed The Brazilian Colony, the Eastern European powerhouse is seen as a school for fledging young talents ready to be hand-picked and play among Europe’s elite. The fact is that the club make great profits from their transfer dealings and continue to nurture some of the worlds finest talents.
Both Porto and Villarreal have adopted the same strategy over recent years and Zenit St. Petersburg have now joined the bandwagon too.
Despite this approach, the club has always made sure that they have benefited in the long run, by ensuring their Champions League status stays firmly in place as well as their pursuit of the domestic league.
There has been a flock of samba stars that have gone on to better their careers elsewhere in-game after a spell at the Donbass. It all started with Brandão. Born in Sao Paulo, the current Bastia striker, signed for the club in 2002 from Iraty Sport Club.
The Shakhtar faithful would never have thought he would become an offensive main stay for years to come. Making a total of 140 appearances, he ranked up an impressive 65 goal tally, before departing seven years later joining Olympique Marseille in 2009.
Who would have known it was the start of a mini exodus of Samba talent to the Iron Curtain?
Then there was Elano from Santos in 2004, another key figure in this remarkable story. The former Manchester City player heaped praise on manager Lucescu during his time at the club, describing him as a “breath of fresh air” and that he “lives and breathes football”.
“He’s always watching videos and as you can see, all the Brazilians who come here are very talented and really make a name for themselves. That’s why they keep on winning everything” – Elano
However, it was the arrivals of Luis Adriano, Fernandinho, Fernando, Douglas Costa and Alex Teixeria that got fans hearts racing and the rest of the footballing world taking note.
Ilsinho, who recently signed for Philadelphia Union of the MLS , was brought in and then Luis Adriano, now of AC Milan and who become the all-time leading goal scorer for Shakhtar in October 2014, was rewarded with his first National call up soon after. Adriano, who scored 77 goals in 127 appearances, was signed from hometown club Internacional for a cut-price fee of £3 million in 2007 – a shrewd piece of effective business.
Fernandinho was the lynch pin in the middle of midfielder during his time at the Donbass Arena. His blistering pace and ability to shoot from long distances was a key part to his game, but the box-to-box player, who has a great passing range, an ability to breaking up opposition attacks and to creating goal-scoring opportunities, sent scouts circling for his signature, resulting in his £30 million move to Manchester City in 2013.
Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa were next. Who? Asked fans at the time of their arrival at Ukrainian football in 2010. More importantly, who would have thought both would become two of the most iconic figures for both club and the country’s football landscape. Teixeria joined the club from Vasco De Gama for €6 million, aged just 19 in November 2009 and Costa in January 2010. Both became key figures for Shakhtar and popular with the home fans.
When Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich came calling, Shakhtar were reluctant to sell Costa, but a staggering €30 million for their talented winger soon changed their minds. He won many trophies with Shakhtar, including a domestic treble in the 2010–11 season, Premier League, the Ukrainian Cup and the Super Cup. He has become one of the consistent wingers in modern football and is viewed as a flash of brilliance throughout Europe.
The most recent example of the Shakhtar model is Alex Teixeira, who recently moved to China Super League team Jiangsu Suning despite being heavily linked with a move to Liverpool. The 26-year old became one of the most well-known stars in Ukrainian football, alongside Dynamo Kiev’s Andriy Yarmolenko.
Teixeira was always a major threat, perfect at drifting into channels, along with being wonderfully evasive in the penalty area. 22 goals in season 2014-15 raised eyebrows. In total, 89 goals in 223 matches then saw him move to the Far East for 50m euro. To think he cost the club just €6 million is astonishing.
Lucescu’s Brazilian revolution shows no sign of stopping and although some of the South American imports have failed to live up to their billing, Shakhtar have reaped significant rewards on those that have proved their worth. Since 2010, of the estimated €153 million Shakhtar have spent on new players, roughly €100 million has been on Brazilian players alone.
It appears that the Donbass Arena will continue to be an unlikely samba home away from home for Brazilian players, who have played a significant role in shaping the most successful team in Ukraine’s recent history.